Background: We previously identified Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.tb) antigen-induced host markers that showed promise as TB diagnostic candidates in 7-day whole blood culture supernatants. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the utility of these markers further, and cross-compare results with short-term antigen stimulated and unstimulated culture supernatants.
Methods: We recruited 15 culture confirmed TB cases and 15 non-TB cases from a high-TB endemic community in Cape Town, South Africa into a pilot case-control study from an on-going larger study. Blood samples collected from study participants were stimulated with 4 M.tb antigens that were previously identified as promising (ESAT6/CFP10 (early secreted), Rv2029c (latency), Rv2032 (latency) and Rv2389c (rpf)) in a 7-day or overnight culture assay. Supernatants were also collected form the standard QuantiFERON In Tube (QFT-IT) test. The levels of 26 host markers were evaluated in the three culture supernatants using the Luminex platform.
Results: The unstimulated levels of CRP, Serum amyloid P (SAP) and serum amyloid A (SAA) and ESAT-6/CFP-10 specific IP-10 and SAA were amongst the best discriminatory markers in all 3 assays, ascertaining TB with AUC of 72-84%. Four-marker models accurately classified up to 92%, 100% and 100% of study participants in the overnight, 7-day and Quantiferon culture supernatants, respectively, after leave-one-out cross validation.
Conclusion: Unstimulated and antigen-specific levels of CRP, SAA, IP-10, MMP-2 and sCD40L hold promise as diagnostic candidates for TB disease in short-term stimulation assays. Larger studies are required to validate these findings but the data suggest that antigen-specific cytokine production and in particular mutimarker biosignatures might contribute to future diagnostic strategies.